Confucius, whose name literally means “Master Kong”, lived 551-479 BCE. Confucius was a Chinese thinker and philosopher, whose teachings and quotes have deeply influenced not only Asian thought and life. He presented himself as a “transmitter who invented nothing” and he really pointed out the importance of learning, which is one reason he is seen by Chinese people as “The Greatest Master”.
One of the best-known sources of Confucius is The Analects, a collection of his teachings, which was compiled many years after his death. A fountain of extremely mindful quotes springs from these ancient descriptions.
Many of them are universal and timeless in their beautiful and simple truth and they are as valid today as on the day they left Confucius’ mouth. Here we take a look at 10 of the most inspiring quotes by Confucius.
1. “Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”
It’s the “Golden Rule” and the essence of real compassion. Not compassion as in looking down on someone and have pity for another, this is no real compassion. Compassion means seeing another person 100% equal to yourself (in value, not in differentials on the surface which ultimately do not matter). In fact, it is seeing yourself in every other person. And therefore you cannot harm anyone without also harming yourself.
It doesn’t mean to lose individuality or self-worth, on the contrary – but the other person earns the same gift.
2. “Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.”
That’s my personal favorite quote since it expresses something very profound which also is very useful to know: Ignorance is willful neglect or refusal to acquire knowledge. It does not widen one’s own perspective in order to see a broader truth. As an example, it would be to have racist thoughts and not realizing that all men are equal.
The ultimate truth, therefore, is where there is absolutely no ignorance, meaning where the perspective or consciousness has become one with all that there is. In Buddhism, ignorance (Avidyā) is seen as the primary cause of suffering. Liberation is Enlightenment. Another quote by Confucius here is “Ignorance is the night of the mind, but a night without moon and star.”
3. “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”
Those quotes are just perfect. What he is expressing here is that we have to experience something ourselves in order to really understand it. If we are hearing something it might be interesting. If we are seeing something it might be beautiful. But only if we feel it happening to ourselves we can really know how it is.
Picture something nice as winning an Olympic gold medal or picture something terrifying as the loss of a loved one. Can you know this by hearing it or by seeing it? Or do you have to do it and experience it yourself to really know it?
Along with this realization comes the awareness that you cannot understand someone or his actions from hearing or seeing it from the outside. You have to feel empathic compassion for him to really know what it is like. To know and not to do is really not to know. Only by applying our knowledge, we can validate its harmony with reality, it’s truth.
4. “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”
Amazing. It calls for dropping the inner mask through which we constantly see and evaluate the world, distorted by our wants and belief-systems. Here we have to look at things as they are. Just like a newborn child would look at things. Then we are able to really see again, without instant labeling of what we see and therefore only really seeing our label. If we become able to do this – just for a second without judgment, we can see that everything in nature is as it should be. And in this natural perfection lies the beauty.
5. “The Superior Man is aware of Righteousness, the inferior man is aware of advantage.”
Another quote is “The object of the superior man is truth.” It is the value of integrity: Do we act to our best knowledge of truth or do we bend ourselves and violate our integrity in order to gain an advantage? Do we play a fair game or use perfidious tactics?
To be truthful to ourselves is also important to the development of (good) character. And it is the only straight way to liberation.
6. “Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.”
Whatever you do and whatever you commit to, do it fully, give your all – one hundred percent. It is the essence of Carpe Diem – Seizing the day and it’s surely the best way to be satisfied with what we do and gets the best results.
7. “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in getting up every time we do.”
There is no failure, there are only valuable learning experiences. Or as Thomas Edison about inventing the light bulb said: “I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The important thing is not giving up, but learning and then improving by using this feedback to get better and ultimately succeed.
A quote expressing the same principle is “A man who has committed a mistake and doesn’t correct it, is committing another mistake.”
8. “He who learns but does not think, is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”
Confucius explains the connection between learning and reflection. Reflection of that what we learned by thinking or of the results we get by applying the knowledge. “Study without reflection is a waste of time; reflection without study is dangerous” is a similar quote by Confucius. Learning is only useful if we connect the learning within our own minds, with what we already know and what is useful for us. This reflection of any knowledge also saves us from blindly following any knowledge without checking its truthfulness and validity to us.
I think everybody experienced learning when we really want this knowledge and interweave it with what we already know. If there is a need or problem we want to solve, the consumption of knowledge is much more effective than it happens for students in many universities.
9. “He that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools.”
This quote calls for planning and preparation. This includes getting and improving the personal skills we need to be successful. If we want to hold speeches we have to become good with communication skills. If we want to win a race we have to train for it. If we want to do a big project we need knowledge in project management. Steven Covey calls it Sharpening the saw, read about it here.
10. “If you look into your own heart, and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?”
It shows that our primary work lies within ourselves: to work on ourselves and improving ourselves will automatically take care of the outside world if we use our abilities then. “When we see men of a contrary character, we should turn inwards and examine ourselves.” The solution to problems is not “out there”.
It is the Inside-Out approach: success and happiness can only be found by working on ourselves. It also entails the spiritual message to look inside and to discover ourselves fully.
Originally appeared on Unbounded Spirit